Prepare to pounce: Public (over)excitement makes the NFL’s Week 1 a smart time to bet

The Raiders have been a popular offseason bet, even though they haven’t made the playoffs since 2002.
Associated Press

An intimate knowledge of all the teams and personnel is only a small part of the equation to making money wagering on the NFL. It’s just as important to understand the betting market. Local casinos book higher volume on the NFL than any other sports league, making odds and lines more susceptible to inflation or deflation based on public perception. A successful bettor must know exactly when to capitalize at the moment a team’s stock rises too high or drops too low.

The NFL’s Week 1 offers a unique opportunity to implement that kind of thinking. Point spreads for the 17 games spanning from Thursday to Monday have graced betting boards for nearly six months. Bookmakers opened future odds on teams to win next February’s Super Bowl 51 even earlier. That’s a lot of betting action at gamblers’ disposal to help make more informed decisions at the start of the season. While some teams take money every offseason and have proven capable through their consistency—the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, for instance—others are less trustworthy.

Here are four teams to stay wary of, and possibly bet against, early in the season with public excitement overpricing their betting options.

Oakland Raiders The Packers are the only team William Hill sports books has printed more tickets on to win the Super Bowl than the Raiders. An offensively explosive start to last season that had the Raiders sitting at 5-3 against the spread and 4-4 straight-up has swayed gamblers into believing the team that could soon move to Las Vegas will take another step forward. This ignores the fact that the Raiders labored to score by the end of last year, going 3-5 both straight-up and against the spread over the second half, and haven’t made the playoffs in 14 years.

Cincinnati Bengals The largest non-injury, suspension or trade-based line move has gone in the Bengals’ direction for Week 1 as they climbed to a 2.5-point favorite after their game at the New York Jets opened as a pick ’em. Much of those responsible for the Bengals’ memorable 8-0 straight-up start last year have moved on. Most notably, offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has taken over the coaching reins at divisional rival Cleveland. Quarterback Andy Dalton retains top target A.J. Green, but his next two receivers signed elsewhere, and tight end Tyler Eifert is injured.

Washington Redskins Washington has received surprising support in sports books, especially after rival Dallas’ quarterback Tony Romo went down with a back injury in the preseason. The Redskins dropped from 20-to-1 to 12-to-1 to win the NFC at the Superbook. Washington didn’t beat a single team with a winning record last year, and rallied to make the playoffs, with quarterback Kirk Cousins completely reversing his historically poor turnover rate. Cousins’ numbers should regress to the mean against a significantly more difficult schedule in 2016.

Houston Texans Houston sits right behind Oakland in the biggest move in odds to win the Super Bowl at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, going from 40-to-1 to 16-to-1. The Texans won the AFC South last year, but that was one of the weakest divisions in NFL history. They have the best defensive player in the league in defensive end J.J. Watt, but he hasn’t practiced since undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in July. There’s also no sufficient sample size to suggest new quarterback Brock Osweiler is any better than the hodgepodge the Texans trotted out last season at the position.

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